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The 25 Best Music Videos of 2011

Beyoncé and Battles (above) land two videos apeice on our list. [Photo: Warp Records]

The 25 Best Music Videos of 2011

I can recall a time when music videos were all but doomed to certain extinction. In the dark days leading up to Internet supremacy, MTV regulated videos to brief cushions between mass doses of Carson Daly, while VH1 decided it would rather gorge itself on the sideshow of (sur)reality television than offer the "V" in its name. Add the anonymity and budgetary limitations of do-it-yourself indie bands, and music videos suddenly appeared to be an unnecessary pastiche. Unlikely hero though it may be, thank God for YouTube. The age of viral content has done more than just invigorate the music video format though—it's freed it. From the sneakily graphic and flippant kids-killing-kids horror of Is Tropical's "The Greeks," to the bug-eating suicidal odyssey that is Tyler, the Creator's "Yonkers," to the Jonestown-conjuring aesthetic of Cults' "Go Outside," to the homicidal tendencies of St. Vincent's "Cruel," viewers can be thankful that music videos weren't just alive and well in 2011, but also completely uninhibited. Kevin Liedel

25. Ke$ha, "Blow" (Director: Chris Marrs Piliero). Ke$ha's "Blow" held the title for the year's best video featuring unicorns for two whole days—until the premiere of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." But in addition to Dawson Leery and "edible lactose gold," the one thing Ke$ha's got that Gaga seems to have lost is the ability not to take herself too seriously. Sal Cinquemani

24. Times New Viking, "Ever Falling In Love" (Director: Brandon Reichard). In a place called New Cleveland in 2031, people have no faces, Hummers are still fashionable, and a king has outlawed images of all kinds. Brandon Reichard's video for Times New Viking's "Ever Falling In Love" is a moving yet unsentimental reminder of the impact visual media has on our collective memories. SC

23. St. Vincent, "Cruel" (Director: Terri Timely). An awkwardly shot video of an awkward tale, made all the more awkward by the discordant chemistry between Annie Clark and her surrogate family when, exasperated, they finally put her out of her non-motherly misery. Strange mercy, indeed. KL

22. Bon Iver, "Holocene" (Director: Nabil). Justin Vernon's humble realization of his non-magnificence is perfectly visualized here: a wandering youth immersed in the cold allure of rural Iceland as he chases an elusive bird of prey. Bon Iver's sophomore album has an innate wintry beauty all its own, making "Holocene" one of those few entries where a single video captures the total spirit of its source material. KL

21. Lykke Li, "Sadness Is a Blessing" (Director: Tarik Saleh). Though it originates from Germany, Ed Gonzalez called Kai Stänicke's visual interpretation of Din [A] Tod's 2009 track "Cold Star" "too Swedish" for his taste. The music video cum short film was ultimately deemed ineligible for this list anyway, but Swedish melancholia triumphed in the end, in the form of director Tarik Saleh's gorgeously lensed clip for Lykke Li's "Sadness Is a Blessing." The pop singer displays surprisingly nuanced acting chops as the obstinate younger half of an ostensible May-December romance, while co-star Stellan Skarsgård turns in a characteristically understated performance as the stoic lover who watches her come apart at the seams. SC

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